President Obama after reviewing forty recommendations from the advisory committee will keep the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Pentagon’s cyber warfare branch under the same command. This comes yesterday despite concerns that too much power is concentrated in the hands of a single military official responsible for both surveillance and directing the growing arsenal of cyber weapons, reports the N.Y. Times.
This means that the military mindset will run the National Security Agency.
As a practical matter, the decision means that Mr. Obama must appoint a four-star military officer to succeed Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the first person to simultaneously run the two organizations, when he retires early next year. Only a military commander can run Cyber Command, which is responsible for defending the military’s computer and sensor systems and carrying out offensive computer-network attacks.
In a statement, Caitlin Hayden, the spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said that Mr. Obama had decided that ‘keeping the positions of N.S.A. director and Cyber Command commander together as one, dual-hatted position is the most effective approach to accomplishing both agencies’ missions.’
The rationale for this approach came in 2009 from then Secretary of Defense, Robert M. Gates, Ms. Hayden said, ‘with the aim of unifying the leadership of the organizations responsible for signals intelligence and defending the nation in cyberspace.’
‘N.S.A. plays a unique role in supporting Cyber Command’s mission,’ she continued, ‘providing critical support for target access and development, including linguists, analysts, cryptanalytic capabilities and sophisticated technological infrastructure.’
The leading candidate to replace General Alexander is Vice Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the current commander of the Navy’s cyberoperations. He was the director of intelligence for the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and for the Pentagon’s Pacific Command.
The combined Cyber Command and the security agency’s most famous joint operation so far have been ‘Olympic Games,’ the cyberattacks launched against Iran’s nuclear program.
But the revelation of that operation in 2010 raised questions, when the computer worm involved in the attack escaped from the Natanz nuclear plant and began to circulate around the world. It started a debate about the degree to which the United States wants to make computer weaponry a regular part of its military arsenal.
Cyber Command has had an unusual structure and complicated relationship since its beginning in 2009. It is not a stand-alone military command, but is subordinate to the Strategic Command, in Nebraska, which has authority over America’s nuclear arsenal. But it is physically located at Fort Meade, in Maryland, alongside the National Security Agency.
In an interview in November, Mr. Hagel previewed how policy makers and commanders were approaching the question of whether to separate the N.S.A. and Cyber Command.
‘I listen to our combatant commanders very carefully on this, because they’re probably as big a user on a day-to-day basis of the benefits of having those two commands together as anyone.’ Hagel said. ‘And we charge them — America charges them, the Congress, the president, I do — in each of their combatant commander responsibilities, to keep their areas safe, but also keep us all safe.’
The recommendations from the task force, called the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, are among several measures suggested earlier this year by Obama, who has said he had ordered a review of the surveillance programs before Snowden leaked secret documents to media.
The report will be made public as details are in progress for release of it.
On Sunday, the White House is due to receive a report from a presidential task force, which is expected to recommend changes to the NSA and its programs.